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Feeding Your Bees Sugar and Feeder Styles

Feeding Your Bees Sugar and Feeder Styles

Posted by Bruce Clow on 26th Jan 2022

Feeding your bees is an interesting topic and you will find many different types and styles of feeder used around the world. I am going to discuss the most commonly found feeders in New Zealand.

Now, with the weather getting colder and the days getting shorter, is the time to be thinking about when and how you are going to feed your bees. Some beekeepers will keep back enough frames of honey in their hive to cover the winter period. The ideal amount is four frames of honey per brood box. During extremely long winters or in the colder areas of the South Island, additional feeding may be required.

For new beekeepers it’s important to understand the different types of sugars that can be used; either WHITE or RAW sugar is used to make the syrup for feeding bees. DO NOT USE brown sugar, yellow sugar or molasses as it causes dysentery. Don’t use other sugars without first checking that they are suitable. Remember when mixing sugar with water that the granules should all be dissolved. Wait until the syrup is lukewarm before feeding it to the bees.

Feeding dry sugar is a convenient method especially for hobbyists. By giving your bees dry sugar it cuts out the messy part of mixing, and a top feeder can be used in place of a frame feeder. Raw sugar is the most effective product of the two, as white sugar becomes hard as it absorbs moisture and then becomes difficult for the bees to use and convert. In the past I have used different techniques of feeding sugar without feeders. One that springs to mind is sprinkling syrup into empty combs with a bottle fitted with a nozzle. This can be a wasteful method and may cause bee robbing. Most of these types of methods have been superseded as technology has improved.

The internal division frame feeder is a great vessel for feeding bees. It normally comes as a sturdy plastic rectangular container, 1, 2 or 3 frames wide. Traditionally you would have to fill your feeder with something like bracken fern to give the bees easy and safe access to the syrup and minimise drowning. Ceracell have developed a line of frame feeder bee ladders new to the market. These new designs give the bees safe footholds to get in and out, but also reduce the entrance to the feeder to slow the up-take of the syrup. This prevents the bees from storing the syrup away, too far from the winter cluster. It sometimes happens that a hive will starve if the food source is too far from where it is needed.

Other methods used in the past are an inverted container feeder this method uses a screw top or friction lid with holes in the lid, which is placed upside down where the bees can reach it. I have also seen old plastic milk bottles cut with an entrance; this method has had reasonable effect. Entrance feeders have also been used over the years and can still be found in use today. A wooden feeder is placed into the entrance and a jar is the placed into the feeder. The bees feed within the hive, although the proximity to the entrance may attract unwanted visitors, such as wasps, mice or robbing bees.

Another popular method of feeding is the top feeder. It is placed on top of the frames in a wooden spacer, sometimes called an eke (pronounced eek). As with the frame feeder you will also have to consider methosds (bracken fern, sticks,marbles or floating polystyrene) to stop the bees from drowning. Ceracell have developed a new top feeder which will be released before winter 2015 eliminating the need to find these sorts of materials. The chimney of the top feeder, where the bees enter and exit the feeder, in the new Ceracell top feeder will have a chimney cap, to restrict the bees to feed inside the cap and so can’t get out into the bulk of the syrup. This will minimise any drowned bees. It is also an effective feeder to feedback your capping's to your bees. Be careful not to do this too late in the season as it may cause bee robbing.

Ceracell and The Bee Hive can meet your entire bee feeding requirements, we supply frame feeders, top feeders, sugar (white and raw) and we also supply sugar syrup in small and commercial quantity.

If you are unsure when it comes to feeding syrup check out page 278 in the Practical Beekeeping in New Zealand book - feeding table.